Facts of Life,  Lists,  Tips,  Writing World

On Letting Go

I’ve talked a few times about how much it sucks when you have to give up on a project and why. Sometimes you let a project go because you start to hate it, it’s causing you nothing but grief, or it just sucks. But sometimes, you have to let a project go that you love. A project that’s worth the headaches. A project that probably doesn’t suck to no end. Sometimes you finish these. Sometimes you don’t. Here is a list to help you know when to let go of something you love, and a few tips on how to get through it.

The Whens
The timing is all wrong.
–This could be a lot of things. Anything from the characters aren’t ready to the plot isn’t ready to market conditions. The good thing about this is that you don’t have to do a permanent shelving, just a temporary one until the timing is better for the story.
The plot is terrible.
–You love the characters and may even love parts of the plot, but it isn’t working. This is a tough one because we don’t ever want to be responsible for concocting a terrible plot line, but it does happen. It’s okay. And the sooner we let it go, the sooner we can move on to one that’s much, much better.
Essential Characters aren’t getting the job done. 
–This is when you love the plot and it’s working, but the people responsible for executing it are boring, too issue laden, not issue laden enough, lazy, or just simply suck. This is tough because you have a decision to make. Sometimes you can recast, but sometimes you can’t. And it’s those times you can’t when you have to walk away.
The plot is good, but flawed.
–This is when you have some great things going for your plot, but there are things in your plot that are just not adding up. That essential subplot won’t fit into the main plot. An important member of the supporting cast doesn’t fit in well with the world you’ve created. Something is off. Maybe you can pinpoint it. Maybe you can’t. This is another time where the shelving isn’t permanent. Some distance and reworking of the plot may be just the medicine this story needs to survive.
Writer + Story = Not Meshing Well
–Possibility the toughest one of all. You love everything about this story, the characters, the plot, the themes. But at some point you realize this isn’t the story for you; you’re not the best writer for it. You may love to read mysteries, but just about always write fantasy. One day you opt to try a mystery and fall apart. You would think a love for the genre would translate into your writing skills, and perhaps with some more practice one day it will. But that day is not today, and this story has to go.

The Hows
Wave Goodbye To Denial
–Like the stages of grief, before you can move on, you have to first stop denying that the story in question isn’t working right now.
–Accept the fact that you might have to shelve this story permanently. This is important. Once you get past this, you’ll be able to move forward open to doing whatever it takes to either fix the story, set it aside, or shelve it.
–Try to pinpoint what went wrong in the story and why so you can avoid running into this situation again to the best of your ability in the future. Be objective and get a second opinion if you need it. Sometimes we know there is something wrong but can’t quite pinpoint what it is.
Pitch a Fit
–Not necessarily a fit, but if you feel like crying, screaming, yelling, punching pillow, or venting to your best friend, siblings, and mother-in-law, DO IT. Get it out of your system. You’ll feel better and calmer when you’re done. DO NOT rip your physical notes to shreds, trash them, burn them, or break something. This is will not make you feel better, and you might want to look back over this stuff one day.
Distract Yourself
–Start a new project. Read a book. Watch a movie. Anything that will take your mind off of the story you just lost. Remind yourself that there is a big world outside your head full of story ideas and creative fodder. You will love again. cue Lara Fabian

There is also this blog post, which I was lucky enough to have tweeted to me the last time I went through this. We are never alone in our struggles. ^_^


  • Michelle A (@SunflowerRei)

    Yup. I’ve done all of these at some point. I save the pitch fits for my blog though, instead of venting to people. People who aren’t writers don’t really get that aspect of writers letting go of projects.

    Lara Fabian shout-out. Awesome 2000s-ish reference.

  • authorcrystalcollier

    I think I’ve only had one story where we just didn’t mesh. It turned out it was totally the plot and it just needed a rehaul. Once I got over those changes, it became something I loved and really looked forward to working on. I don’t think I’ve ever permanently shelfed a story, unless I just realized early on there wasn’t enough to it.

    • krystal jane

      I’m rehashing a couple of plots right now. I hope they work out. You’re so lucky. 🙂 I’ve shelved about as many stories, if not more, than I’ve actually finished. O_o
      Luckily I’ve finished a lot or I’d be inclined to feel a little bad about it.

  • Tonja Drecker

    Somethings are better left. . .but maybe simply for a later date. Even if I don’t attack the stories again, that doesn’t mean writing them was useless. I’ve found that every story (or even partial one) has taught me something about my own writing process and what I have to watch out for in the future. There’s one in particular I have sitting on my shelf, which suffers from major plot holes – ones I’m sure I’ll be able to fill someday when the right inspiration/idea hits.

    • krystal jane

      Exactly! Even when the stories don’t work out, I can’t see it as time wasted because I always learn something from them. Sometimes it’s even something I did that was incredibly right. I didn’t finish my NaNo story, but I swear that story has the best opening chapter that I’ve ever had. ^_^

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